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Citizen engagement is a destination – knowing how people feel is the compass

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When we started the citizen-e journey with the team from Sensation.io, it was because we had a gut feeling that government wasn’t tuned in to how people are thinking and feeling with regard to priorities for them in the civic space.

We know people can be quite disgruntled about many things when it comes to engaging with civic agencies – from speed of service to how they access or find services – but beyond that, there was a suspicion that governments may be missing an essential level of understanding when considering the path forward with intelligent innovations. This feeling was validated by US Mayors who attended a summit in March 2018 at SXSW in Austin, TX, where we launched the survey.

Public sector citizen engagement requires effort from all

There is a major disconnect between the small segment of any population who are highly vocal and civically engaged (think Baby Boomers with time on their hands), and then there are the rest of us. And there are layers which we truly couldn’t anticipate unless we could get out there asking a lot of different people, from a lot of different places, what they thought about the same topics when it comes to citizen engagement and civic participation. 

Ultimately, we asked roughly 1,000 people from countries all around the world what they value and consider themselves an advocate for when it comes to current digital services, how they prioritize seven citizen-facing services when it comes to their smart city, state or nation.

We also asked how they feel about data they’re sharing with government – which is pivotal to being able to provide frictionless service and address fraud and compliance issues across agencies. The benefits of data sharing has gains for people on both sides of the equation. Yet, perhaps not surprisingly, this was an area of very hot contention across the board.

With the topic of data privacy at the forefront of governments and businesses, this is certain to be a conversation that will be ongoing. 

How do citizens feel? You need to know

I believe there is absolute value in considering how Australians feel right now about these topics, and how it compares to the rest of the world. Why should we care about how Australians compare to Texans, the British, Estonians, or citizens of other far-flung places? Namely because governments like to borrow good models from other governments.

Look at gov.uk and our own australia.gov.au, these are pretty similar in form and function, generally considered a best practice UX model. What if we want to borrow something from the model in Estonia or Singapore? These are top-notch digital nations, but do citizens there value something differently than we do here? Do their millennials have the same focus as ours? How Australians feel, in comparison to other people on a global scale, matters when validating an innovation agenda. The same goes for governments of any nation – understanding what citizens feel is key to governing. 

Knowing what people think about any of the given topics is important, but knowing exactly how they feel about sharing their data with you and why they feel this way is essential if you want to create successful outcomes. It’s the context around their experience, what they value, and what makes them an advocate – or not – of services. Asking the questions in a different way means we could find out these answers and compare populations, genders, generations, with layers of emotional context and intensity in how an answer is given, among other things. 

This is important, because right now, across all public sector, decisions are being made, money is being spent, time invested in new innovation technologies to support the betterment of the population. Delivering deep value to society means an equally clear understanding of how people feel and how intensively they feel it. 

Once you understand the will of the people, you are better fit to serve them. 

Data can transform government and citizen engagement as we know it. Learn more from this infographic.

This post was first published on LinkedIn, and is syndicated here with permission.

Kathleen O'Brien
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January 24, 2019
Kathleen O'Brien

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